The Practice of Keeping Retainers


The practice of keeping retainers had replaced the feudal system of the middle ages where social bonds were required in return for a landholding or service. 

Retainers were those people that were in the service of a nobleman’s household and included those who worked in a Lord’s house for a wage or a small fee in addition to food, drink and livery, known as livery and maintenance. 

A man could be retained for life or for a fixed period. Retainers were employed to fill a variety of positions for example: men at arms, chaplain, farrier, server etc. Retainers were sometimes taken on just to increase the number of men retained by that Lord since the more retainers attached to a nobleman, the higher his status. 

Henry VII had mixed feelings about the practice of retaining. On the one hand he worried that a nobleman might amass a very large household and army and be able to challenge the King’s position on the throne. On the other hand he knew that large retainers meant that when he called on his nobles to raise an army for him his army would be larger than if retaining was banned. 

In 1504 Henry VII had an act passed which required all noblemen who kept retainers to submit a list of their names to the King in order to obtain a license for them. Henry hoped this would give him some control over the practice.

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2017). The Practice of Keeping Retainers Available: Last accessed February 17th, 2019


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